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“Day and night flash in a strobe, seasons collide, clouds explode, candles melt onto icing sugar, a wreath rots away. The boy and his dad rush through time, thumbs pressed together. The boy grows like a weed. And in every moment is a world unseen – beyond balconies, outside of memory, far from the reach of understanding. I can only describe reality as I know it. I’m doing my best and I promise to keep trying. Shake on it.”

Author: Nathan Filer                           Published: 2013                         Pages: 307

This novel depicts the story of Matthew. His brother, Simon, died when Matthew was a boy and ever since that day, he has been fighting the demons which plague him and remind him of his loss. Unable to move on from Simon’s death, Matthew succumbs to his demons and as a result descends into schizophrenia. Having a poor relationship with his parents to begin with, the deterioration of his mental health only makes this worse and while throughout a lot of the novel it is unclear how much Matthew was responsible for the death of his brother, either way, the death consumes the rest of his life. Matthew is only nineteen but it is clear that he struggles to make sense of the world and even the most simple tasks can be an uphill struggle for him.

This book is written from an honest and eye-opening perspective. Filer creates a character who not only invokes sympathy with the reader, but also challenges perceptions and stereotypes of mental health. The story reaches into the heart of the protagonist, and through his unreliable narration, allows the reader to gain a new perspective on the terrors of mental health. It is a story about mental health, but more importantly about coping with loss and how the strength of the family can endure even when your sanity may not. With glimmers of Adrian Mole and Curious Incident, this book is a heart-breaking and important piece of literature which illuminates so much for each who pick it up.

Filer’s stream of consciousness-esque style of writing really allows the reader to immerse themselves into Matthew’s mind and more importantly shines light on the struggles of having schizophrenia. With inventive chapter titles such as “is this question useful” and “clock watching”, letters and illustrations and “truths” presented by Matthew, Filer is triumphant in creating a perfect replication of a human being struggling with the obstacles life has thrown his way. Matthew is relatable, heart-warmingly honest and simply just doing his best. His most relatable line, for me, being: “Problems seem less if we have them with a cup of tea.” If nothing else, Filer’s novel helps educate the reader on understanding mental health and the dangers of stereotyping and making sweeping statements for all mental health issues. As Matthew poignantly states:

“This is what labels do. They stick. If people think you’re MAD, then everything you do, everything you think, will have MAD stamped across it.”

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